OPINION | Douglas Gibson: Lindiwe Sisulu - a woman scorned?

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Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.( Picture: Phill Magakoe / Gallo Images)
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.( Picture: Phill Magakoe / Gallo Images)

What makes one sad and uncomfortable is that instead of paying more attention to the business of running our country, leaders of government at the highest level are indulging in intra-party warfare, writes Douglas Gibson

"Hell hath no fury…" is a well-known idiom. Does it apply to Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu?

I suspect that not only does she consider herself to be a woman of destiny, but she has not got over her fury at the way she has been treated by President Ramaphosa. She, ANC royalty and the occupier of Cabinet positions for a quarter of a century, including some very senior portfolios, like Defence, State Security and International Relations, was demoted to a relatively junior portfolio such as Tourism. Worse must be the feeling that even that downgrade has been accompanied by abysmal tourism figures (not her fault, but still), caused by the pandemic. She has not been able to shine.

Her previous defenestration from International Affairs to Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation was humiliating enough, but this latest one was worse. And the president was the cause of it all. He had his chance to make her the deputy president, but instead chose DD Mabuza (who delivered the Mpumalanga votes that made Ramaphosa the president).

Something has to be blamed 

Well, if Ramaphosa does not appreciate her - Jacob Zuma, Carl Niehaus, Bathabile Dhlamini and Julius Malema and his EFF certainly do. They share her vitriolic views of our courts (where they seem almost always to lose). They also profess undying love for the poor masses and their plight (not even thinking of accepting responsibility for the devastation their policies have wrought after being in power for a generation). Someone or something has to be blamed: what better than the Constitution which promises much (and is still holding), but has not delivered the better life promised by the ANC, despite the best efforts of Zuma, Sisulu and others?

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Transformation was the watchword. Despite the pretence, transformation largely meant replacing whites with black people, qualified or not, and giving jobs to ANC cadres. Some new appointees were excellent and well-worth appointing. Many others merely needed the support and the sponsorship of some top people in the ANC – notably that of Ramaphosa himself in his capacity as the chairperson of the Cadre Deployment Committee for years in the Zuma presidency. Now that transformation in the civil service and in every SOE (and of the Judiciary) has been accomplished, with some good but also many disastrous results, someone has to be blamed. What better than Sisulu's new attack to the effect that some of the incumbents are "House Negroes", to use her elegant turn of phrase?

Sisulu clearly wants to be fired

The divorce is not there yet. Sisulu remains in the Cabinet. After ever-more urgent prodding, the president finally called her in and, to everyone's surprise, issued a statement thereafter that he had admonished her and she had agreed to apologise for her insulting comments about South African judges. It seemed the couple had agreed to kiss and make up. But no such luck. Sisulu denied the presidential account of their meeting. In effect, she said the president was lying.

The president issued another statement, reiterating his previous account. He was, in effect, saying she was lying. She attacked his media people for misrepresenting the situation, wanting the public to believe that he is a puppet, who dances to the tune of his media people, does not read statements before they are issued, or else, is a liar. This is ugly stuff. As someone who acted in a fair number of divorces over a lengthy legal career, one recognised this as the end-times for the Sisulu/Ramaphosa marriage.

ALSO READ | Siya Khumalo: Is media freedom compatible with either a Sisulu or Ramaphosa presidency come 2024?

But it seems not – at least at the time of writing. She clearly wants him to fire her as the ultimate evidence of his rotten treatment of her and his failure to recognise her great worth. He seems less keen, preferring to keep her in the tent. This will make for fascinating viewing and reading, and one can only deplore the fact that Cabinet meetings – up to now - have remained confidential.

What makes one sad and uncomfortable is that instead of paying more attention to the business of running our country, leaders of government at the highest level are indulging in intra-party warfare. Time to stop it, before even more of the voters write off a tired government that obviously needs a good period in opposition.

- Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. You can find his website here

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